The surging Mountaineers (18-4, 7-3 Big East), winners of five of their last six, swept a two-game New Jersey set with wins over SHU and Rutgers, and Butler carried WVU both times. The Garden State slasher tallied 38 points in both games and also provided defensive versatility, manning the tips of the 1-3-1 using his length and quickness outside and a blue-collar mentality inside that dogged Seton Hall.
"He certainly likes it here," West Virginia head coach John Beilein said of Butler's home state. "I see a kid with an infectious smile who just wants to win. He is better than almost good enough."
Butler canned two of his three 3-pointers in a key stretch after Seton Hall pulled within nine after trailing by as many as 18. The freshman sandwiched two treys around a SHU layup, then chased that with a driving lay-up 75 seconds later to put WVU up a dozen at 59-47 with 8:15 left. It was a dizzying display of Butler's ability to play inside and out, and paired with his defensive skill set. The Pirates (12-10, 3-6) got as close as six points before Butler and Joe Alexander, who had 13 points and nine rebounds, made consecutive baskets. Alexander's dunk, off a Frank Young steal, put the Mountaineers ahead 10 with three minutes left and they made all 12 of their free throws down the stretch, part of a 23 for 25 effort overall.
The win sets up West Virginia to break into and shake-up the national rankings. The Mountaineers, still lacking a marquee win but having just one bad loss against Cincinnati, play host to top 10 foes Pitt and UCLA next week looking to further an already solid NCAA resume' that, until the New Jersey swing, lacked a road win over a major conference foe. That dilemma was dashed in impressive fashion, WVU snapping a four-game losing streak at Seton Hall and never trailing in the last two outings in winning its third game in seven days. The Mountaineers, helped by Young's 17 points and the 16 from Nichols, moved into a tie for fourth place and have registered the second-most wins in the league behind Pitt's eight.
"Look at those numbers," Beilein said. Four guys in double figures and Al (Ruoff) has eight assists. It's a great team effort."
West Virginia dissected and dominated Seton Hall early, then survived an 8:55 field goal draught. The Pirates were initially lost on both ends, befuddled by the 1-3-1 and having no concept of guarding the motion-oriented, screening WVU offense. The Mountaineers scored the first eight points of the game and eventually built a 29-11 edge by the 10:38 mark. West Virginia had 16 points in the paint off backdoors and lay-ups via defensive pressure. Alexander scored nine of WVU's first 21 points – most off easy lay-ups via transition – and the Mountaineers made 11 of their first 14 shots. It was a red-hot start that came on the heels of the finest shooting performance in their Big East history against Rutgers when it hit 65 percent from the field.
Then it was gone, all of it save the lead due to an icy period in which West Virginia failed to score for seven-plus minutes. The Pirates further stressed a shortened WVU bench – backup point guard Joe Mazzulla and backcourt mate Devon Bawinkel were out with a deep thigh bruise and hand injury, respectively – by using waves of players and substituting frequently. Beilein tried to keep pace with additional minutes from Wellington Smith and Ted Talkington, the latter of which had not played in 11 games this year but came in three different times in the first half alone.
The rotational change and poor offensive execution segued into 11 straight Pirate points and a 16-2 overall run in which just five points came outside the paint. That cut the 18-point lead to 31-27 with 2:37 remaining in the opening period largely because Seton Hall, which starts no player taller than 6-7, used their quickness and running ability to seduce West Virginia into a fast-paced game. Consecutive WVU steals and resulting lay-ins stopped the push and helped the Mountaineers lead 37-31 at the break. After its 11-of-14 start, West Virginia missed 17 of its final 21 shots and finished just three of 13 from 3-point range on the way to a four-for-22 game from behind the arc.
Seton Hall got as close as four points, 40-36, early in the second half before Beilein went small with a lineup of Butler, Alexander, Young, Nichols and Ruoff, who finished with eight assists despite being guarded all game by Big East steals leader Paul Gause. That coincided with Butler's back-to-back 3-point outburst, when he matched his previous high of 17 points with 9:30 left in the game.
"Da'Sean is the type of player who is always going to get better," Nichols said. "I have a lot of respect for him because he is a hard worker. He felt like he had something to prove coming into his home state."
Consider it proven. In 26 minutes, Butler hit eight of 14 shots and added two rebounds and an assist with three steals. And with Bawinkel and Mazzulla out, Butler's ability to move on defense enabled Nichols to handle one of the wing slots in the 1-3-1 that would usually have been played by the guards upon insertion. That bettered the overall defensive look against the league's fourth-best scoring team. SHU could get inside buckets but missed 18 of 22 3-pointers against the Big East's best three-point defense, one that ranks second in the conference in scoring allowed per game. The contest was just the second in eight series games decided by more than six points.
"A quality road win, quality," Beilein said. "We didn't shoot well from three. This is a win like South Florida at home. We don't shoot it well and we still win. We attacked. We hate that 18 turnovers, but the only way we get the 18 assists is to attack. We took another step in mental toughness in winning on the road.
"Now we get into it. We do our best and let the chips fall where they may."